Ask An Expert: Pros & Cons Of Remote WorkShawn Forno 09.14.2017
Remote work is on the rise. In 2016, Forbes reported that “the number of freelance workers is growing quickly,” with over 55 million U.S. freelancers (up from 53 million in 2014). Another large scale survey from the Freelancers Union, an organization with over 300,000 members, reports that “freelancers make up 35% of U.S. workers,” and that these freelancers and remote workers “earned $1 trillion in 2016.” Remote work is here, and it’s profitable. But should your company institute a remote work model? We asked CEOs, founders, marketing managers, and HR heads how remote work has helped or hurt the way their companies operate.
Here’s what # experts in remote work have to say about building and maintaining a team of remote employees.
The Pros of Remote Work
The good news first. On average, remote workers are happier, more productive, and higher performers than their office counterparts. In fact, Forbes cites a recent study that showed “all other factors being equal, remote workers make 13.5 percent more calls (the metric for the business in question) than their comparable office workers…the equivalent of almost a full extra day’s worth of work in a given week.”
Remote Work: Increasing Productivity & Reducing Waste
Remote work alone has the potential to produce a full day of extra productivity per single week. That’s incredible. Numbers like these are a driving force of why these CEOs swear by remote employees.
“The single biggest advantage to remote working is increased productivity due to the extra time saved not having to ‘dress up’ for work or commute. We’ve been 100% remote since day one.”
Hugo Lesser, Communications Director, Bright!Tax
“In the past, we grew at an annual rate of 37%. Now, thanks to remote employees we recently hit 69%,” claims Rennella. “It’s all thanks to working from home with fewer office interruptions.”
Cristian Rennella, CEO & co-founder, El Mejor Trato
“Remote work adds more freedom and flexibility to a company, while removing a lot of unforeseen distractions. No more “random” meetings, wasted lazy Friday afternoons, or rigid 9 – 5 hours.”
Jake Tully, Creative Director, Truck Driving Jobs
Remote Work: Hire the Best Talent from Anywhere
One of the best arguments for a remote office is that you can hire the best people from anywhere—not just driving distance from downtown. That’s a game changer. Because a remote team of all-stars is worth any few communication hassles or time zone hiccups.
“Talent is out there, but it might not always be conveniently located in your area,” argues Melissa Smith, a virtual assistant staffer, remote work consultant, and author of Hire the Right Virtual Assistant. “Whether it be getting the right person for the job, attracting a larger talent pool, or saving money remote work eliminates the need to find the needle in a haystack. You have to be honest with yourself about what your company needs, desires, and person who fulfills these them. It raises the standard and now, with the right job description, that person finds you.”
Melissa Smith, Author
“The pros of remote workers are countless but one of the key positives is that we can hire smart people from around the world. In turn this allows team members to manage their own lifestyle and work life balance, and this has a profound impact on overall happiness and productivity.”
Greg Mercer, CEO
Fit Small Business co-founder, David Warring also recommends hiring from a larger applicant pool. “When people don’t have to come to the office it increases the talent pool from NYC to the entire world.” The upside? “Access to much greater talent at much more affordable prices.” Embrace remote work and expand your eligibility pool to the entire world. Literally.
Remote Work: Flexibility & Time Zones
While some companies see a sprawling network of remote workers as an obstacle to productivity, many CEOs see a diverse remote team as another asset. “Remote teams allow people to work in environments and on a schedule that is best for them. It also allows teams to be spread across different time zones, which can be really helpful if you have clients across the United States or internationally,” notes Valerie Streif, Senior Advisor at the job search site, Mentat.
Jerry Nihen, web developer, and founder of Jay Nine Inc., also sees remote workers as a selling point. “We have different employees who work different hours, so we’re able to offer close to 24/7 responses to our clients without overburdening anyone.”
One of the most obvious (yet important) reasons to institute a remote work policy is simple: remote work makes employees happy. Happy employees are loyal employees, despite all the trash talk about freelancing millennials. Case in point: Basecamp, one of the biggest proponents of the remote office.
Basecamp made a name for itself as a great place to work, due in large part to flexible remote work policies like a 4-day summer work week, 3- week paid vacation, and 1-month sabbaticals every three years. But at the center of this groovy management style is the simple commitment to employee productivity—however those employees can find it.
The first paragraph on Basecamp’s about page isn’t about the founder or the mission statement. It’s about the importance of remote work:
No, seriously. They actually wrote the book on remote work.
According to Basecamp, when you trust your employees to get the job done in a way that fits their work preferences and schedule, you get the best work from your team. This sentiment is echoed time and again by nearly every manager and CEO we talked with. Like Basecamp, some companies even see remote work as a recruiting tool. “Remote work is a huge attraction to anyone applying for a role with us,” Max Robinson, WeSwap Euros.
Remote Work: Employee Morale
But are remote workers really that much happier (and productive) than their cubicle compatriots? “Staff morale is difficult to measure,” says Cristian Rennella, co-founder of O Melhor Trato, “but none of our 34 team members wants to return to work in an office. So there’s that.” Rennella even found that average retention increased from 74.6% to 91.2% after implementing remote work. “People want to work from home and then enjoy their family.”
“Remote work is great for employee morale and a lot of studies show that people are more honest when they track their hours themselves,” argues Valerie Streif, senior advisor at Mentat. “I know for a fact that if I was trapped in an office for 8 hours a day, a significant chunk of that time would be wasted on irrelevant web searches and other distractions.”
“Remote working adds ownership to a company,” says Melissa Smith. “When people feel like they have a direct impact on what the company is providing they want to make a greater difference.” But Smith cautions using remote work as an incentive. “Remote work is not a perk and shouldn’t be used as such. You can have a flexible office, but not everyone is skilled to work remotely. Even worse, not all offices are prepared to handle the policies surrounding how a flexible or work at home office should function.” It all depends on your industry.
One of the clearest answers for why employee morale matters came from Emily LaRusch, CEO & founder of Back Office Betties, a virtual receptionist staffing company. LaRusch notes the added cost and lost time of remote training new staff:
“Most call centers have very high turnover rates. Our team members love the flexibility of working remotely so much that they stay with the company for a long time. Give people what they want. This trend is not going anywhere and all the ping pong tables and catered lunches you can throw at them won’t reduce the desire to work remotely. I had a scooter to cruise around the office on, popcorn and slushy machine at one job and the moment they gave me the token to work from home, I was out of there.”
And that loyalty saves a lot of money because training new remote workers can cost a lot.
Remote Work: Cost Saving Analysis
Cost, surprisingly, was one area where the experts disagreed. “Hiring remote employees can save money in office space, equipment, etc., particularly if you implement a BYOD (bring your own device) policy,” argues Clary. Hugo Lesser agrees, “Having a 100% remote team is highly cost effective due to saving on the overheads associated with having an office.”
However, some argue that while remote teams can save money, the saving benefits are conditional:
“In many cases it’s more cost effective to hire remote employees, but only if you don’t have an office space,” declares Melissa Smith. “Companies shouldn’t see hiring remote workers as a way to hire outside the US and pay lower wages. When you hire on a contract basis you’ll pay more upfront for quality work and less on the backend in employee benefits.”
Valerie Streif echoes this concern and keeps the focus on geography. “Depending on the industry and location, it can be way more cost effective to hire remote employees. Paying for office space in San Francisco will eat up a significant portion of a company’s budget.” But things change when it comes to hiring new remote workers.
“If anything, remote training is more expensive because it takes longer than in-person training” argues LaRusch. Jerry Nihen agrees, and cautions against hiring remote employees just to save a few bucks. “It can be more cost effective to hire remote employees, but if cost is the only reason you’re interested in doing remote work, remote work isn’t going to work for you.”
Like everything else in the corporate world, remote work comes with added benefits and hidden costs. Evaluate your situation carefully.
The Cons of Remote Work
Remote work isn’t all happy employees and fun Skype chats. There are a lot of obstacles and problems to tackle before you commit your company to remote employees. Take a look at what remote work really means, and establish a plan before you burn you sell all your IKEA desks on Ebay and burn your office to the ground.
Remote Work: Diversity & Communication
“A diverse remote workforce with different perceptions and fresh eyes can solve the problems you’re currently facing,” declares Smith. However, that diversity comes at a price.
“Remote work adds a nice balance of employees who may come from diverse backgrounds, or geographic parts of the world, but it can be difficult to bring everyone together,” warns Bob Clary, Marketing Director at Develop Intelligence. “ Communicating across the entire team at once is tough. You have to commit to technology to make it work.”
“The main challenges involved in managing a remote workforce are maintaining morale and a company culture despite being geographically dispersed. The solution is employing technology (e.g. Skype, Facetime and live chat groups) to keep communication lines open. Another good strategy is sharing and celebrating the company’s successes and asking for (and employing) ideas for innovations and improvements from the whole team.”
Hugo Lesser, Communications Director, BrightTax
“The biggest con is that it’s harder to build a cohesive company culture when some people are in the office and others are not.”
David Waring, CEO & co-founder, Fit Small Business
“The biggest con we face is IT support. Our virtual call center requires team members to have solid and strong internet connections. Helping team members troubleshoot problems takes more work than if everyone came to the office and worked off one connection. The plus side is we are a remote team spread across the US so if one area is affected by weather, it doesn’t shut down the entire company.”
Emily LaRusch, CEO & founder, Back Office Betties
“One thing a remote team lacks is the identity that comes with the ever-present ideals of company culture. Remote teams can somewhat identify with the outcome or product from a project or campaign that they have accomplished, but the work that goes into the finished product can feel somewhat anonymous when there isn’t a physical atmosphere in which to connect.”
Jake Tully, Creative Director, Truck Driving Jobs
“Remote teams can lack some cohesiveness. If there are updates or changes made, it can take a little while to make sure everyone is informed/up to date. Typically most people check their emails and phones often for notifications, but occasionally important messages can get lost due to the lack of face time. It also is made up of independent individuals, which can sometimes take a toll on the “teamwork” atmosphere that most companies strive to cultivate.”
Valerie Streif, Senior Advisor. Mentat
The Best Remote Work Software & Tools
We’ve written about our favorite remote work and collaboration tools before. Here’s a few more team management tools, platforms, and software our experts swear by:
Remote Employees: Client Transparency
One often overlooked aspect of remote work is client transparency. How much do your clients need to know about your remote staff? If you charge a premium, does a remote team affect your business model? When asked if you should tell your clients that you hire remote workers, the experts agree:
“If you have the right kind of clients, they’ll appreciate the diversity of thought and capability that a remote team can bring to the table.”
Bob Clary, Develop Intelligence
“We have thousands of clients in over 150 countries, and not one has ever inquired as to whether our employees work remotely or not. The important thing is to provide superlative service and exceed our clients’ expectations. Remote working is in no sense an impediment to this for us.”
Hugo Lesser, BrightTax
“Our clients understand that our staff is remote, but they also understand our focus is on them. Regardless of where we’re located, we are one united team determined to provide them the best quality service and product possible.”
Chris Maeda, CEO
Initially, I didn’t have the capital to start a brick and mortar business so I had to get creative. I was embarrassed when competitors warned prospective clients about “those other guys” who let their people work from home. After hearing this from yet another prospect, I grew angry and decided I would shout from the rooftops that this is who we are and part of what makes us great. We’re in great company with AmEx, JetBlue and Discover who all have remote call centers. I guarantee our competitors aren’t refusing to use their AmEx because they have remote employees. I’m surprised that in 2017 people still have a perception of people working from home means they are doing laundry and taking care of kids while they are working.
Emily LaRusch, Back Office Betties
“There is rarely a stigma in remote work. Most larger companies and C-suite level individuals have worked around remote workers for a while. This was one of the reasons it was such a shock to the remote community when Mayer pulled all the remote workers from Yahoo—it seemed like a step backwards.”
Jerry Nihen, Jay Nine, Inc.
Remote Work: Future or Fad?
Is remote work really the future of business, or is it just another “paperless office” pipe dream? Again, our experts agree:
“Outsourcing and remote work is the future. We’ve evolved from desktops to laptops to technology that allows anywhere to become the office. We’re not going back.”
Bob Clary, Develop Intelligence
“No question: Technologies like virtual reality are going to make it grow even faster.”
David Waring, Fit Small Business
“Remote work is definitely the future. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to a 100% remote world, but I think that soon it will be the norm rather than an exception. I recommend remote work to CEOs and managers, but with the caveat that it may not work for you or your team. Plan a transition period first. Really think about your company and culture before just going remote, and ensure you have proper systems/processes in place before doing so.”
Jerry Nihen, Jay Nine, Inc.
“Remote working and outsourcing is the future. It’s not a fad. However, the idea of it being one or the other is what companies are struggling with now. There are three scenarios, the traditional office, the flex office, and the remote office. A flex office and a remote office are not the same thing.”
Melissa Smith, The PVA
“Remote working and outsourcing are certainly not fads, but options made possible by the global proliferation of high speed internet. That said, they are not necessarily the future for all businesses. It depends on the business model, and whether remote working and outsourcing can allow the business to better achieve its objectives and meet its clients’ needs.”
Hugo Lesser, BrightTax
The Remote Work Revolution
Remote work saves money, boosts morale, gives you a competitive advantage, and ramps up productivity—if it’s right for your business. The widespread use of remote work tools and easy-to-use communication platforms means that remote work will continue to thrive. If we learned one thing from these CEOs and entrepreneurs, it’s this—remote work isn’t the future, it’s the present.